An Enner Valencia brace, enough to defeat host nation Qatar in World Cup’s opening match
Qatar disappointed and conceded two early first-half goals from Ecuador’s highest scoring player.
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After four and a half years of waiting, the much-scrutinized and controversial 2022 World Cup finally kicked off in the Qatari capital of Doha at the Al-Bayt Stadium, with the host nation taking on Ecuador, one of the youngest teams in this tournament alongside the U.S. and Ghana.
Despite the political and human rights controversies that have hovered over in the lead up to the tournament, it was a joyous night for soccer fans as the biggest global sporting event returned, with the exception of the Qatari side that went 2-0 down after half an hour.
Ecuador’s youth shined and it was their captain, and their nation’s highest scoring player, Enner Valencia, whose penalty and glorious header at the 30 minute mark, that did in the Qatari side, which suffered a humbling opening night defeat in front of their home crowd.
It was the fast start Ecuador were hoping for as they have now become the favorites to advance of their group with the likes of the Netherlands, and Senegal.
In unusual circumstances, much of the Qatar supporters had filed out of the Al-Bayt shortly before the halftime whistle. While the game was pretty much in hand for the Ecuadorians, even at 2-0 down, there is usually some hope of a comeback, especially considering Ecuador are not a powerhouse squad.
But the host nation’s supporters did not feel as such and left the stadium as huge crowds of yellow painted the stands and with visibly a lot of pale red seats — the empty ones.
It could have easily been a 3-0 complete wipe out and a hat-trick for Valencia, but his first goal just after three minutes was waved off after a check from the VAR system determined it was offside by the tiniest of margins. It would have been the fastest goal scored in an opening World Cup game. But it would not be long before Ecuador did score as they were awarded a penalty just after 15 minutes because of a mistake from Qatari goalkeeper Saad Al Sheeb.
The Qatari defense was caught by surprise with a lovely through ball from Ecuador’s forward Michael Estrada that found Valencia on the run ahead of the defense with Al Sheeb’s hesitation to commit to a dive, fouling the captain at his feet. Valencia was cool and calm as he made Al Sheeb go left as he drove his ball into the right corner giving La Tri the lead, the first of the tournament.
The Qatari side did not look well positioned for a comeback after conceding the first goal. They lost possession a lot and fouled a ton trying to regain possession that resulted in four yellow cards for key players in important positions — from their two forwards, a midfielder, and the keeper. They were never able to keep with the young and quick Ecuadorian side, and even more so after conceding the second.
At the half-hour mark, Ecuador and Premier League Brighton player Moisés Caicedo got possession off of a failed Qatari throw-in. Yellow shirts flanked down the middle of the park where Caicedo found 24-year old right back, Ángelo Preciado, who delivered a beautiful swirling ball into the box from the right side of the pitch where Valencia was able to head it into the far left corner, away from Al Sheeb.
Despite some signs of life in the second-half, Qatar were never able to get close to getting a goal back as of the five shots they had, none were on target. Ecuador were comfortable with the lead and parked the bus in the second half. Valencia’s two goals were enough to give La Tri the crucial three points as they, for now, take the top spot in Group A.
Not all hope is gone for the host nation as they will have another chance to get some points and goals on the board as they take on Senegal this Friday. Senegal are underdogs against the Netherlands on Monday, Nov. 21, and depending on how Sengal performs, it could be something for Qatar to look forward to.
Ecuador however, will look to take the opening day momentum into matchday two against the Dutch, one of the favorites to win the whole tournament.